Fire Next Time, The

by James Baldwin (1962)


A powerful, often beautiful treatise on the plight of African-Americans that is essential reading for anyone curious about the black experience in the U.S. and should be essential for every U.S. citizen. It should literally be required reading in our high schools. The more I read/hear/watch of James Baldwin the more I love the man. How did it take me this long to recognize his genius? Shame on me!

And if you don’t think this book is still timely then you’re simply delusional. The only real criticism you can make is that he overlooks the female plight and emphasizes black men over black people.

Some of my favorite passages, man does he let em rip:

But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. 16

There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will not longer be needed. 35

From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded — at least, in the same way. 74

. . . a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless. 77

The real reason that nonviolence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes. . . is that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened. 83

The Negroes of this country may never be able to rise to power, but they are very well placed indeed to precipitate chaos and bring down the curtain on the American dream. 119

There is absolutely no reason to suppose that white people are better equipped to frame the laws by which I am to be governed than I am. It is entirely unacceptable that I should have no voice in the political affairs of my own country, for I am not a ward of America; I am one of the first Americans to arrive on these shores. 131-2

The American Negro has the great advantage of never having believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, (and) that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen. . . 136

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